Last month, the junior and senior classes from my school had the opportunity to travel to Washington, D.C., for a week to learn about our country's heritage and government. On our first full day there, the main item on the agenda was Arlington National Cemetery. Standing amongst the rolling green hills dotted with white tombstones as far as the eye can see, you feel a wave of reverence wash over you. Watching the Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, an intricate ceremony with innumerable steps and rules, everyone in the audience came to the same realizations of how truly great our nation is, and how those men and women who have died in service deserve our utmost respect. You can't help but leave Arlington engulfed in a sea of peace, knowing that you are safe because of those who serve. You have a deep sense of what freedom truly means, and you want to live your life in a way that honors their memories.
That's why it was so shocking to hop on a bus and go from Arlington to the Holocaust Museum. You can't imagine two places standing in starker contrast. You're bombarded by photos, videos and artifacts of indescribable atrocities that humans committed against one another a mere 70 years ago. We constantly hear the facts and figures of how many people died, but the museum gives the victims names and faces, and the reality of the event is inescapable. In one room, you pass under a casting of the gate at Auschwitz, which reads, "Arbeit Macht Frei" "Work sets you free."
In that moment, as I studied that gate and the principle that it was trying to instill into its dying prisoners, it struck me how different America is from the rest of the world. The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was established in 1937 to honor the memory of our soldiers and the freedom they won for us, and within a few years, Europe was dotted with horrific concentration camps that proclaimed only work can set you free.
There is a parallel here that can be drawn to biblical concepts. Throughout the Old Testament, we see time and time again instances of the Israelites trying to live up to God's standard set forth in the law and miserably failing. We see God trying to show them that apart from him, they can never reach his perfect standard of holiness. When Jesus came in the New Testament, wiping away our every sin with his death on the cross, it's as if everything is finally made clear: Freedom comes from Jesus' death and resurrection, not from our futile attempts at earthly perfection.
In the same way that we need to live our lives as Americans with those fallen soldiers in mind, respecting their sacrifice and acting out of gratitude, we should live our lives as Christians with immense thankfulness and gravity. Galatians 5:13 reads, "You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love." It's true that we are free to live how we want; however, we shouldn't take advantage of our American citizenship nor the grace of God and continue to live in sin. Those who died for us deserve more than that. We need to go throughout every day knowing that on our own, work could never set us free-instead we look to God, who is pointing us to his son and gently saying, "Here, here is how you can truly be free."
Elizabeth Burckhard is a senior at Our Redeemer's Christian School in Minot.
Reflections, a mini-sermon written by Minot and area clergy, will appear each Saturday in The Minot Daily News. Clergy interested in writing a mini-sermon should contact Religion Editor Loretta Johnson at 857-1952 or Debbie Sandvold at 857-1950. The toll-free number is 1-800-735-3229.